Adult Education in Iceland

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
Adult education in Iceland consists of two main sectors. One within the formal school system; in colleges of further education with mature student departments and lifelong learning centres, in universities with departments for lifelong learning centres for adults and in adult educational centres run by municipalities. The other sector has developed in recent years after the Icelandic government agreed to finance increasing educational opportunities for people with little formal education.
In Iceland there is little tradition of folk high schools and liberal adult education as in the other Nordic countries.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
The first sector is as traditional adult education that takes place in the workplace, through ‘extension’ or ‘continuing education’ courses at secondary schools, or at colleges or universities and lifelong learning centres.

The second sector mentioned above has developed following the completion of salary negotiations with the trade unions in December 2001 when the Icelandic government announced that they would cooperate with employees’ and employers’ representatives on improving education in the employment sector. The aims included enhancing supply and ensuring the quality of education for people in the employment sector who have little formal education. Shortly thereafter the Education and Training Service Centre for the Employment Sector Ltd. (FA) was established by the Icelandic Federation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA). FA is owned by ASÍ, SA and operates according to a service contract with the Ministry of Education. In the year 2003 in an agreement between the social partners, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) and the Ministry of Education the target group was defined as follows: “The main goal for this agreement is to ensure that people in the labour market with little formal education, drop-outs, immigrants and other similar groups are given the possibility to pursue suitable studies and strengthen their position in the labour market.” In 2010 the federation of public employees (BSRB), the state and the Association of Municipalities in Iceland joined the organisation.

Legal basis
New law on adult education was passed in the Parliament in Iceland on March 31st. and launched October 1st. 2010. The law is intended to be the fifth pillar supporting the education system in Iceland. The law forms a framework for the work performed by the Education and Training Service Centre (ETSC). The law presumes that the Federation of Public Employees (BSRB) and their employers, the Association of Municipalities in Iceland and the Ministry of Finance, are partners of the ETSC in addition to the Icelandic Federation of Labour and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers. There are various issues that the law make clarifies. Firstly it stipulates the responsibility of the state treasury in funding adult education and in the confirmation of credits and also sets criteria for accrediting providers of adult education, their curricula, information duties and success factors. The law ensures that adults have various possibilities to study in order to re-enter upper secondary schools and have their competences validated and documented, as well as having access to guidance and counselling.
The National Statistical Institute of Iceland (Statistics Iceland) is responsible for collecting information about the schools system in Iceland. Through its web site statistics about all school levels in the formal system are accessible, but there is nothing about other kinds of education, such as adult education, nor is there any information about lifelong learning centres or about other forms of adult education.

Responsible public bodies / ministries
The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture
The Ministry of Finance
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security
The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture

The Education and Training Service Centre is owned by all the major partners in the labour market in Iceland.
The service contract under which the ETSC operates states that it should assist the Ministry of Education in increasing educational opportunities for people in the employment sector who have little formal education. ETSC should also develop methods to evaluate education and work, including assessment and documentation of real competence that people have gained through job experience, self-education et al. ETSC should also improve the quality of adult and vocational education, and should encourage adults to study.

Leikn, The Association for Adult Learning in Iceland
Leikn promotes common ground for those involved in adult learning within Iceland and acts as an advocate on their behalf with the government. The organisation seeks to enable active discussion regarding continuous education and refresher courses. It seeks to increase the flow of information, communication and collaboration between those who provide adult learning and the government on one hand and to increase foreign communication in the field of adult learning on the other hand. Those who have a right to join the organisation are; providers of education outside the formal education system, who are independent party associations who have as their main function the ability to offer adult learning, whilst working for the common good of the local community (non-profit making) and who are independent businesses.

Providers of Adult Education
Lifelong Learning Centres
The first Centre for Continuing Education started operating in 1997. During the following years, eight more centres were founded, covering the whole country, but with the exception of the capital city area. In the latter area various adult education organisation have augmented their operations. They include the Workers Education and Training Organisation, Mímir Lifelong Learning and Reykjavík Adult Education. Centres for Continuing Education vary in organisational structure but can be said to have common roots. They are supported by local government, by colleges of further education, by employees associations and by companies in a variety of ways. They have brought increased adult participation in education at all levels, at further and higher education level, but not least in custom-made education (e.g. as seen in the curricula of the Education and Training Service Centre). With these developments the need for assessment of real competences has increased rapidly in recent years, both for the employment sector and for the purpose of granting further education credits for such skills.
Eyjafjord Lifelong Learning Centre
Farskólinn á Norðurlandi Vestra, Lifelong Learning Centre
Lifelong Learning Centre in the Western fjords
Lifelong Learning Centre of Southern Iceland
Mímir-Lifelong Learning Centre
MSS, Lifelong Learning Centre
Lifelong Learning Centre in Western Iceland
Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Centre of Þingeying County
Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Centre in Eastern Iceland
Viska, Lifelong Learning Centre

Secondary Schools for Further Education
There are 40 upper secondary schools in Iceland. Of these there are nine specialised schools, in arts and domestic science. The others are general upper secondary schools, technical/trade secondary schools or comprehensives where students can choose between vocational or academic education. Some of the comprehensives are also vocational schools.
In schools there are normally two educational routes for adults. On the one hand there are the mature student departments for those who wish to qualify for entry into university. Those who choose this can either attend classes in the evenings, where they take similar courses to those taken by students in the day school, or they can use distance learning. The mature student departments differ from the day school in that the former have fewer teaching hours behind each course credit. The teaching is also targeted at the needs of adults and the adult learners have to pay more for the teaching – about one third of the cost.
The other option open to adults is the continuous or re-education available at the lifelong learning centres run by the secondary schools, where courses are offered in cooperation with trade associations, employees associations, employers and other parties. The schools have to keep separate accounts for these activities, and costs are met either by the cooperating parties or by fees paid by participants.

There are seven universities in Iceland. Most of them have departments that are run as lifelong learning centres for adult education. What they offer can be roughly split into two categories: on the one hand a broad selection of courses in computer skills, languages, literature, design and art and on the other an offer of longer or shorter courses of study that lead to a diploma, e.g. in marketing and in project and staff management. Cooperation between the nine lifelong learning centres and the universities is growing steadily. In most cases the cooperation concerns formal education that leads to vocational qualifications, e.g. for nursery school teachers or nurses.
University of Iceland,University in Akureyri, Bifröst University, The Open University in Reykjavik University
The Agricultural University of Iceland, Hólaskóli, University of Holar and Iceland Academy of the Arts.

Employees’ Associations and the Trade Union Movement
Most trade unions offer their members a range of continuous and re-education opportunities. This is done in various ways. Some run their own schools, like the School for Electrical and Electronic Studies which is owned by both the Iceland Electricians Trade Association and the Association of Employers in the Electrical and Computer Industries. Other employee associations have offered various courses in cooperation with parties such as colleges of further education and their lifelong learning centres, e.g. with Matvís which is the Icelandic Association for Food and Catering.
There is a long tradition in Iceland of involving employee organisations in the offering/provision of adult education. Initially this was limited to vocational education, but in more recent years the associations are/have been buying training from others/other sources and are offering a wider choice in cooperation with parties such as Mímir Lifelong Learning and the Lifelong Learning Centres across the country.
IÐAN the Vocational Education Centre
The Vocational Education Centre for Electrical Workers Félagsmálaskóli alþýðu

Local Government Adult Education
The first evening school in Iceland, Reykjavík Adult Education, was founded in 1939. Initially they only offered hobby courses, but in the early seventies they began to offer vocational training courses for the unskilled, linked to the employment market. Later, special courses were offered for people with literacy problems. They have also offered courses for adults who want to complete the secondary school level, and courses in Icelandic for immigrants. Reorganisation of Reykjavík Adult Education operations began in the summer of 2005, but there is no information available on what changes will be implemented. There are also evening schools in Reykjavík’s neighbouring boroughs, Kópavogur and Hafnarfjörður. Theses schools offer a variety of courses, both vocational and hobby courses.

Kópavogur Evening School,
Educational Workshop Akureyri
Hafnarfjord Adult Education
Reykjavík Adult Education
Fjölmennt, Adult Education for the Disabled Keilir Atlantic Centre of Excellence

Unlike the situation in the other Nordic countries, most adult education is not funded by the state or municipalities. Learners pay for their studies and apply for a refund to their vocational training fund.

Quality system / insurance
Quality standards have been established, and a quality assurance system has been developed in an international project and a total of 12 courses on andragogy developed and taught at the Life-Long Learning Centres around the country in order to enhance the quality of education.

Latest developments / upcoming topics
2011  Iceland involved the new law and an agreement between the Ministries of Finance and Education, and the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA), the Federation of Public Employees (BSRB) and the Association of Municipalities in Iceland on raising the educational level in Iceland in order to enhance participation in working life and society. The aim of the partners is to work in a systematic way to reduce the number of people in the work force without vocational education or upper secondary school to 10% in the year 2020. It is fair to say that in most recent years, adult education in Iceland has developed as a result of initiatives from the employment sector. It will be critical for development in this field in the coming years that the employment sector can make its views heard. If one looks at adult education in Iceland and compares it with the situation in other Scandinavian countries, one can see that the involvement of the employment sector in management and development of this education is quite special.

Sigrún Kristín Magnúsdóttir, NVL

Relevant links
EUROPEDIA: European Encyclopedia on National Education Systems – Iceland
General country information: Wikipedia: Iceland
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture